Cthulhu City is a tabletop role-playing game about a mysterious city that sits on the east coast. The city doesn’t appear on any maps. The city isn’t in any history books. The city can be hard to find until one terrible night, you find yourself in the city and now find it impossible to leave. The city is called Great Arkham, but you will know it as Hell on Earth.
I feel like there are as many Call of Cthulhu inspired games as there are Great Old Ones in the stars. Some are Suck, many are Okay and others are even Quite Good. The Gumshoe line of games from Pelgrane Press aspire to be more than just Quite Good and transcend into Art. Cthulhu city is no different.
It takes Lovecraft’s original bunch of small haunted towns and asks what would happen to those small towns if they got absorbed into one terrible city like New York or Chicago? Innsmouth, for example, is no longer a small fishing town but the name of the neighborhood that has the docks. It applies this kind of logic to places like Dunwich and Kingsport; transforming familiar places into really neat evolutions.
A normal writer would have stopped there and called it a day but Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan goes further. He makes the city truly alien and sinister with little touches like the giant basalt buildings that clearly predate human civilization but stand alongside skyscrapers and no one finds that weird. There is the mysterious Transport Police, who technically exist to keep people with infectious diseases from coming into the city, but the buildings they spray down with their “disinfectants” tend to melt the next day. Or what about the Church of the Conciliator, who is the dominate religion in the city, that teaches that Christ did not ressurect, but instead is dying and yet dreaming of a time when humanity will be merged with the Will of the Divine?
There is a mystery in Chtulhu city and one of the brilliant innovations of this game is that it is up to the gamemaster to decide what that mystery is. Does Great Arkham exist in other dimension? is it a shared hallucination? Some terrible result of a world-bending spell? The gamemaster decides, and the players investigate. To help you, the book provides three to four versions of EVERY non-player character, so you can decide, per campaign, if wise Dr. Armitage is a rebel hero, secret traitor or something far worse.
The game is contained in one nice beautiful tome. It took me about three months to read it all because I had to digest it in bits and pieces. Even though I don’t have a gaming group at the moment, the book is a wonderful source of inspiration for all things great and creepy. I recommend it to any Lovecraft fan and hold it up as an example of how to improve on Lovecraft’s original work.